Don’t worry, be happy! And there may be some more to this than you think!…
I got into a little bit of a fun debate the other day around worrying and stress, and whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I thought it was an absolutely awesome discussion and I wanted to open it up to The Start of Happiness.
My friend was arguing that there is absolutely no benefit of feeling worried. And sure, research suggests that worry isn’t that great… it can cause stress, lead to heart attacks, breakdowns, panic attacks, sometimes you can’t think straight and it can potentially lead you to physically being ill. That’s a pretty long list of negative associations of stress! And I don’t disagree with these… so how can I possibly have argued on the contrary?
I may have been born differently to everyone else on this planet… but I swear I see worry (mostly) as a positive thing. I see stress as a positive thing. Worrying switches our brain on! It helps us to actually take a situation seriously. It helps us to think through different alternatives to a situation. It helps us plan for the future. It prepares us for what is ahead of us. Without worry, we would just be acting on impulse and dealing with horrifying consequences.
Obviously, the key separation here is the level of worry. It’s the need to reduce the level of worry and keep it at a positive level without it leading to psychological or physical harm. In my debate, I was suggesting my methods on how to see worry as a good thing and some strategies to reduce your level of worry, and I’ll come to these shortly. However, I wanted to do some research into the topic, firstly to confirm that I was born normal and that other people thought the same as me 🙂 And secondly to see if there was actually any scientific proof behind the positive effects of worrying. What I found was exciting!
I came across this (http://www.cognitivetherapynyc.com/whyworry.pdf) awesome article from the Scientific American Mind journal, December 2009. It goes into the detail of worry and the consequences of worrying, but much to my delight it also describes some of the benefits. To cut to the chase, it summarises that worrying can be healthy, however over-worry, as expected, has its negative consequences.
The above article mentions that one of the first experts to suggest the potential benefits of worry was Psychologist Graham Davey of the University of Sussex in England. In a study performed in 1994, he concluded that worry can be constructive, helping to motivate individuals to take action, help people resolve problems and that it can actually reduce anxiety. Another study in 2005 by Psychologist Maya Tamir of Stanford University concluded that worrying can improve performance when working on a cognitively demanding task, such as a test or exam.
One study (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120412153018.htm) suggested that our worrying may actually have co-evolved with intelligence. It suggests that worrying can help us keep away from dangerous situations and has helped us to have higher survival rates.
The key thing I noticed going through all this research is the level of worry. Worry IS a good thing, but to a certain extent. Michel Dugas, a psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal, suggested that worry is like a bell-curve, where moderate levels can improve functioning and performance, but when excess worry occurs there would be a decline in performance.
I loved this quote from Christine Calmes, a postdoctoral fellow at the VA Capitol Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Baltimore, who even suggests that those individuals that are more successful at life actually worry a little more…. To me, this sums up what I was debating the other day:
“It’s all about how people cope with the worry. If it’s incapacitating, then it’s not okay. But if worrying motivates people to go above and beyond—put in longer hours, attend to details that others may miss—then it’s a good thing.”
Tips to Ensure that Worrying Brings You Happiness
Reframe the Situation
One awesome technique that I always do is to completely reframe the whole situation. When I start to get worried or stressed, I simply look at it from the point of view that it’s actually helping me look at alternative ways of dealing with a situation, it’s helping me to plan for the future and it’s also heightening my awareness… because of this, I start thinking “HOW AWESOME IS WORRYING?!” and I try to worry more however the worry just seems to dissipate… ;D
Ask Yourself The Real Questions
The other thing I do when becoming worried or stressed, is simply ask the question “what’s the worst that can happen?” or “will this matter 5 years from now“? 99 times out of 100 it doesn’t. This again can reshape the whole situation and reduce your worry and stress levels.
Get Somebody Else to Ask You The Real Questions
If you can’t seem to talk it over yourself and reduce your worry, get another perspective! Talk to someone that you feel comfortable with and get their thoughts on the situation. You might find they start calling you ‘silly’ for worrying too much… this is a good thing! It simply means you shouldn’t be worrying. If it is worth the worry, another perspective will help you bounce around ideas and prepare you for what you need to do.
Book An Appointment With Your Worries
Treat your worries like a human being. Book an appointment with them in your diary for say, later that night for 30 minutes. Talk to your worries in that 30mins… deal with the worry by applying the above techniques, use that time to solve the problem. You might even find that by the time you get to your appointment you may realise that what you were worrying about during the day is actually not much of a worry anymore!
Take Yourself Out of the Situation (aka Micro Holiday)
If you’re stuck worrying about a particular thing, remove yourself from the situation completely. Holidays are the best example of this. When you’re on holiday, how often do you worry? What can you do in your day that acts as a Micro Holiday? Do something that you love and remove yourself from worry. When you revisit it, you might even find that the worry is not actually worth worrying about!
Do What You Love
Linked in with the above, do what makes you happy! If you’re doing something that you love, surely you can’t be worrying? Exercise is great for reducing anxiety, stress and worry. Why not give this a go?
Simply Confront Your Fear
If you’re worrying about a particular thing, person or situation, simply confront it! One of the best and fastest ways to get over worrying is to just take action and face your fear. You will probably find that the worry was not worth worrying about.
And My Favourite… Know When You’re Becoming a Super-Human
If you know when you’re worrying, then you will know when you are turning into a super-human with heightened awareness, a more advanced ability to think cognitively and know that your IQ levels are being raised (proven! http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120412153018.htm ) . When you know this, you can unleash the super-human in you and turn your worry into a super-power 🙂
Here’s to living your amazing life!
P.S. If you’re in Sydney this weekend, please feel free to join us for a ‘Party of Purpose‘ at the Glenmore down at The Rocks (http://www.theglenmore.com.au) from 11:30am. Some followers of Live Your Legend are throwing the party and it’s sure going to be an amazing group of passionate people… I’ll be there and I’d love to see you there! Come say hi!
It’s laborious to search out educated people on this subject, but you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks
Optique Longchamps Paris http://www.estimation-immobiliere.fr/immobilier2820/
Great post – I love the re-frame of worry being something positive. I experienced a similar thing thing a few years back. I’m a master worrier – honestly, if they could had an Olympic sport in worrying – I’d win gold! one day on a training course I was getting into a bit of a groove with my worrying and the teacher teacher said to me, ‘stop fighting them – listen instead.’ It was a revelation that my ‘worries’ might have been my subconscious trying to tell me things. By paying attention to my worries I was able to engage the logical part of my brain and work through what was concerning me rather than just staying in fear. I now worry a lot less and when I do, I ask myself what they’re trying to tell me and what I can do about it.
Winning gold in any Olympic sport would be good… even if it’s for worrying! 🙂
I like what your teacher said… all emotions can be listened to. It’s about developing your emotional intelligence, understanding what you’re feeling and also how to take control of this.
I always believe that all emotions have good and bad sides to them . They are all created for us to feel living. Without sorrow, how can you learn what is happyness. Thanks for the post. I appreciate your work.
Exactly.. emotions make us feel ALIVE! 🙂
Wow, what an interesting new perspective on worrying. It can help you with cognitive activities such as test taking? I didn’t expect that.
I love your idea of spending time with your worries every day. I think worrying isn’t a bad thing to have. I’m the type of person who says all emotions have good sides to them. It’s when they go to the extremes when they become harmful. But if you spend time with them regularly, they don’t get out of hand. You can control them. It makes sense to me to confront them because if you don’t then you’re never going to solve them. That’s when they can become harmful.
Overall though I think you’re right. A little worry can be a good thing.
Right on! As you say – all emotions have good sides to them… even ones such as worry and anger. They all have a place in our life and our wellbeing. Without these feelings, how do you know and appreciate the opposing feeling?
Indeed… it’s about building your emotional intelligence and taking control of your emotions and feelings.
Thanks for the awesome input 🙂
I don’t agree that worry has positive effects if I’m honest. I don’t believe it’s the instigator of motivation.
I believe true motivation comes from finding a purpose in your a life, a passion. I think worry can motivate at times when we begin to panic but the motivation will only last till the situation has calmed down.
You’re right in that motivation comes from living your passion and having meaning in your day-to-day life. And I would also agree that this is a better and more productive and sustainable form of motivation.
My purpose in this article is to help you rethink the way you think about worry and stress. As research has shown, it’s not all negative and there are some great benefits and human needs for worry. Again, it all comes down to the level of worry.
This is great Brendan!
I think it all depends on your definition of happiness. If we define it simply as getting as much positive emotion and as little negative emotion as possible, worrying is a very bad thing. But if you expand your definition to include things like morality and Seligman’s PERMA, like you said, worrying can be useful.
In my own life, I’ve gotten a handle on worry. I’m an excessive worrywart. But I’ve also developed the ability to turn it off (although it doesn’t always work…). In combination, the results can be fantastic. A large part of my daily motivation comes from worry. A large part of my confidence in life comes from my ability to use worry, rather than let worry goose me around.
You’re exactly right. I love the PERMA model… it’s what it’s all about.
I love it how you say that a huge part of your confidence comes from worry. I agree. When we worry about something but then turn it into something great, you feel great for it! When you start to recognise the feelings of worry and understand how to then control those feelings to use to your advantage, you’re entering into a whole new space of wellbeing and performance.
All things in moderation…. Worrying included.
I think that this article is redefining worrying a little bit. People usually associate worrying with focusing on the negative side of a problem and not trying to just come up with a solution. Worrying is ok if we look at it as a problem solving tool. worrying is simply acknowledging that you have this problem and thinking about it with focused intention that you NEED to solve it. There is nothing wrong with that.
I like how you describe booking an appointment with your worries. This way they don’t interferer with your daily life and you have a more focused tome to tackle them as problems that have a solution.
Thanks for the post!!
Thanks for the awesome input. I like it how you say we can look at worry as a problem-solving tool. This is exactly what it’s all about and it’s exactly why worry EXISTS. All feelings have a reason… and worry is a feeling created to help us prepare for the future, identify solutions and look at alternatives.
I’m one of those types that doesn’t deal well with worry. I find it distracting and pointless. I’m less productive, less confident, and less myself when I’m full of worry.
So I don’t.
I’ve trained myself pretty well to not think about whatever is worrying me up until I absolutely must. The very last minute. By then, it’s usually time to take action anyway and action always brings you to the present, whereas worry deals with the future.
Interesting take on the subject though. Nice to see a different perspective.
Again, it’s all about the level of worry. It’s only good up until a certain level. When it reaches the level of heightened stress or anxiety and starts to prevent performance then it’s gone too far.
Time is good as you say… it forces you to face the obstacle and take action and normally it isn’t worth worrying about!
Interesting topic, Brendan. I also noticed the benefits of worry a while back. When I lack motivation, I begin to run through my mental to-do list before i consult my Evernote. Then once I am actually looking at it and realize it needs to be done, my body kicks into action.
Most of my friends tell me how much they worry about things but it still doesn’t drive them to complete the tasks at hand. So what you say about the level is spot on.
Nicely said… as you mention, it’s kind of like back in the uni days where you have an assignment due… when you know it’s due in 24 hours and that worry starts kicking in you take incredible action 🙂